Who Asked You?

Suddenly, Queen Lane’s getting a roundabout and neighbors are like “Whaaaa…?” 

There’s a roundabout coming to East Falls, at Queen Lane and Fox. Where the newly-restored Revolutionary War Memorial is, but no worries, that’ll stay right where it is. This traffic tweak won’t be cutting into the water department’s territory or claiming eminent domain over anyone’s property.

True story: our roundabout will be the smallest roundabout ever for Philadelphia! A nipple-like circle of concrete – elevated in the middle for easy rain run-off. Car axels will follow its curves snugly but the wheels of trucks and bigger vehicles will actually ride up a bit on the slope as they circle around.

Seems it won’t be porous or planted, either, because Philly Streets wants to keep the project streamlined in case the roundabout fails to “take” here. If it doesn’t work out, they can put stop signs up – “Which pretty much defeats the whole point of a roundabout,” a representative admitted at this month’s public meeting, “But if needed we can do that.” He then made a note that the engineers should include a Plan B in their project write-up, in case the trial happens to fail.

November 1st, EFCC’s traffic committee hosted a public meeting with Philly Streets and Vision Zero to advise the neighborhood on plans for a Queen/Fox roundabout and also ask for input from the community. About 30 neighbors divided into five tables with renderings & printouts, and then different representatives* (traffic engineers, planners, educators, etc) rotated thru each group to answer questions and record feedback.

At our table, a lot of folks didn’t love being left out of the decision-making process, but in general most were in favor of a roundabout at this intersection. No one was thrilled about the design – it’s certainly not going to be an aesthetic improvement to the area – but overall people agreed that speeding was a big problem, and they were open to traffic-calming efforts such as the roundabout.

One couple in our group, however, was not having it. They lived on Queen Lane, and a car had actually slammed into the property nextdoor earlier this year, destroying the concrete steps. “What’s to stop drivers from accelerating as they pull out of the roundabout?” they wanted to know. The Philly Streets dude had to admit: nothing. The roundabout isn’t meant to address speeding everywhere along the route, it’s more targeted to help make the intersection safer.

So much evidence supports roundabouts for safety and traffic calming, though! Not in all locations, and they’re no cure-all for speeding/accidents, but still. When they work, they’re fantastic. And studies show they’re working in Pennsylvania. But when they don’t work… ugh. Pedestrians can be tricky – bikes, even trickier. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, roundabouts radically change the flow of traffic thru a neighborhood, affecting everyone.

So it’s weird to us – and to many at the public meeting – that this decision to put a roundabout at Queen & Fox would’ve already been made. There was no vote, nor will there be. Philly Streets and Vision Zero rely on community organizations to represent the neighborhood majority.

EFCC’s traffic committee meets privately, is all we’re saying. And although John Gillespie provides his reports at every general meeting, it’s been clear over the 4+ years we’ve been covering the Falls that traffic stuff often gets planned behind closed doors and not reported on until it’s a done deal. This Queen Lane roundabout is a perfect example.

And it demonstrates a troubling pattern that we’ve seen blow up before. When they announced the project in October, John said they’d been working on this for over a year — you’d think they’d have surveyed the neighborhood or something.

Lack of transparency aside: traffic calming isn’t a bad idea. Queen Lane between Fox & Wayne Ave is on Vision Zero Philadelphia’s “High Injury Network” of the city’s most dangerous roadways. Because of this, Philly Streets is open to provide as much traffic calming as the neighborhood wants. Our traffic committee here flagged them down, “Help us!”

That’s a good thing, right? Why wouldn’t we want safer roads? “You’d be surprised, “ Vison Zero chick told us, “Most communities fight change. I guess we don’t like to learn new things.” Knowing this, you’d think the organizations involved would prioritize informing and including neighbors, but nope.

Philly Streets dude explained to us that although they’ll be releasing a report from the meeting to EFCC’s traffic committee, “It’s up to them whether they want to share this information or not.” Moving forward, there will be at least one more public meeting for neighbors to ask questions and voice their concerns, for what it’s worth (date/location tba).

Barring any overwhelming pushback, the roundabout is coming. “Unless like all the neighbors started calling and emailing the councilman ‘No we don’t want this roundabout!’ we’ll be going ahead with the plan,” we were told.

When we talked with neighbors afterwards, most were into the idea of a roundabout, especially when reminded there used to be a stoplight here but everyone hated it. If the stop signs aren’t working, why not try a roundabout?

Maybe not THIS roundabout, though… Most agreed the plan as presented seems eye-sore-ish and environmentally insensitive. Why isn’t PWD involved (they’re right there!)? Where’s the stormwater management plan? What’s the deal with concrete barriers – might we have planted bumpouts? Maybe some signage…?

Hopefully, we’ll all have our comments & questions ready when the next Queen Lane Roundabout meeting is announced. Meanwhile, thanks to Philly Streets, Vision Zero Philly and EFCC’s traffic committee for their efforts in reducing crashes on our streets.

NEIGHBORS SPEAK! (read the full conversation on NextDoor.com):

Naveen M., East Falls  Unless they do something about Henry Ave this feels beside the point. Not trying to minimize traffic issues at Queen and Fox, but how about Schoolhouse and Henry, or Midvale and Henry? I’m not saying there should be a roundabout, but they definitely need traffic calming measures at both of those intersections.

John Gillespie, EFCC Traffic Committee chair  Henry Ave. Is the subject of widespread planned changes by PennDOT sometime in the next two years. Plans include speed controls,  vegetated islands, curb bump outs, skid resistant surfacing, new traffic signals, and other steps to calm traffic. It does not include roundabouts which PennDOT has rejected for a variety of reasons.

EJ D., East Falls  What a stupid idea!!  I live on Queen Lane on the block above Fox.  Now way do I want to see this go through.  Traffic Circles cause nothing but confusion and more accidents.

Michael A., East Falls  If people at that intersection don’t obey stop signs do you really think they’ll obey yield signs?

Suzanne H., Wissahickon  The roundabout on Walnut Lane is working very smoothly….I have seen smaller roundabouts in other cities than the one at Walnut Lane and they, too, work well to calm traffic………….

Marjory L., Central Germantown  What a TERRIBLE idea! The roundabout at Walnut Lane is a nightmare when traffic is heavy & annoying any other time. It’s a solution worse than the problem imho.

Nancy P., Central Germantown  At Queen Ln. and Fox St., many Drexel Med. students and teachers are on foot right around the same time of day as the rush hour traffic begins.  I think they need to be asked how they feel about this.  I think I know the answer!  Walnut Ln. bridge area never gets the volume that QL & FS gets.  I believe a traffic light (that everyone has to observe) with a longer “green” light for Fox St., shorter for Queen Ln., would be a safer option.  After all, aren’t we trying to make it safer for foot traffic and vehicles?

John B., East Falls  I wish a real effort was made to poll our entire community about what kind of traffic changes they’d like to see before big, expensive, and permanent changes like this happen. That the pros and cons were given more thought and run by more people, with diverse points of view.

Raymond L., East Falls  The funding is in place and is sourced from the red light camera ticketing revenues. The proposed round-about is one of several being considered throughout the city in order to work towards the goals of Vision Zero which aims to dramatically reduce the number of crashes and pedestrian fatalities in the city. The East Falls Traffic Committee since it’s inception in 2005 has been working with the city to deal with speeding issues here in our community. It has only been in the past six or so years that a real paradigm shift has occured and the Streets Dept. has taken the  lead on this effort. Again, I urge  folks to do the research and learn about them. Another good place to look is the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute and search the topic on Round-Abouts. In a previous post, I recommended the Federal Dept. of Transportation, National Highway Administration.

Michael A, East Falls  I’m pretty sure the traffic committee has never been in a car in East Falls.

The East Falls traffic committee is completely out of touch with actual traffic. They want to “calm traffic” on Ridge, which is often gridlocked. They want to install a pedestrian crossing at a blind curve on Midvale by the funeral home. They ignore streets like IQL that have a constant stream of traffic running a series of stop signs.

John B., East Falls  To piggyback on one of Michael’s points, there is an issue with “calming” traffic in heavily congested areas that I haven’t heard mentioned yet. I expect that the calming measures on major traffic routes (fox, henry, ridge) are going to make an already gridlocked rush hour much, much worse. There are no alternate routes, the amount of traffic coming through will not diminish. So we’re talking about extending the anount of time we have cars running engines in our neighborhood dumping HAZARDOUS FUMES into our lungs, our children’s lungs. So many kids in Philadelphia already have asthma from the poor quality air- do you want the air quality in East Falls to get even worse? I think some of the traffic measures being presented are MAYBE going prevent a few accidents at the expense of DEFINITELY harming everyone’s health in the neighborhood.

EJ D., East Falls   So Raymond, why not try speed cushions first before something like a roundabout?  BTW – I have never been polled or asked my opinion in the 18 years that I’ve lived her (next door to the person whose steps were takeen out last weekend), so I’m not sure who the EFCC Traffic Committee is talking to.  … Sounds like you’re the one with your mind made up.

John B., East Falls  Agree with EJ, I don’t know anyone in the neighborhood who has been polled about their opinions on traffic issues. I’ve never been asked. It seems, on the outside, that the traffic committee does research to back up their own views, and does not ask for or take into consideration the wishes of the larger community. They certainly don’t seem willing to consider opposing opinions.

EF FEEDBACK: We’d love to hear from more neighbors about this project – like it? Not so much? Have a better idea? Questions we can ask for you at the next meeting? Please email us or respond in the comments below. And let’s talk about this at the next East Falls Forward meeting (December 20th, 6:30 PM 3721 Midvale).

*who shall remain nameless, since we are quoting them freely

Orange = concrete splitter/island; Yellow = sidewalk, Blue = crosswalk

 

3 Comments

  • Sean

    I am all for pushback against what appears to be a closed-door group that makes life-effecting decisions for an entire neighborhood. That being said, us on the Frederick/Stanton hill would love a crosswalk at the Funeral Home. A blind curve is blind to the things beyond the curve, not the things at the apex of the curve, so it would be perfectly visible to both sides. Our only other options to cross Midvale are 300 or 500 + feet in either direction. Bad process to get to the idea but that doesn’t change the goodness of the idea.

  • Melanie

    Seems like a lot of posters hate cars. Nobody wants safe things like 85th percentile speed limits, longer yellow lights, and stop signs only where needed. Traffic calming is not needed when engineering is done right. If most people do not obey the speed limits, ding, ding, the speed limits are too LOW!

    The comment on ARLE grants above puzzles me. NO city should ever accept that money, and the underlying cameras should be banned ASAP.

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